The Blog: What’s Coming in November

First, Happy Halloween to everybody!

I’ve been feeling like my blog posts are a little scattered of late–kind of “my life” focused and a little light on craft-talk. Hopefully, this month, I’ll get back on track with talking about fiction and the writing of it. I’m digging into a couple of projects that I think will get me back on track, both with my own writing (the emotional AND time commitment) and with blogging about the process, tools, and ideas that I really love talking about.

First, as you probably already know, I’m participating in PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) over at Tara Lazar’s blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them).

I’ll be guest-posting over there next weekend, but I’m guessing I’ll also be talking about it here plenty–what it’s like mining for a new idea every day for 30 days, how those ideas are feeling, if I’m seeing serious potential in any of them for development into actual stories…That kind of thing.

And I’m pulling myself back to the YA historical that has been driving me nutso.

This is my copy of Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. No, you can’t buy it in a three-ring binder, but if you have a bandsaw in your garage, you can either bravely take the book to the blade yourself, or–like me–ask your husband to cut the edge binding off, then three-hole-punch the thing into a binder, thus leaving LOTS of room for all those extra pages of notes and scenes you’re going to create. Yes, it’s book mutilation, but in the best cause ever. Yes? Yes.

I’ve talked about this book before, well–about the prequel to it, Writing the Breakout Novel. And I used the workbook when I first got started on this WIP.  The story has changed so drastically, though, and I find myself struggling so much to understand the characters, that I’m going back to the workbook. Seriously, that’s the biggest compliment I can pay a writing book–that I return to it in times of stress, mind-chaos, or need-for-inspiration. I’m going to work my way through the workbook, and I’m going to do ALL the exercises. In some form or another.  Between Mr. Maass and me, we’re going to figure these people out! And, lucky you, you’ll probably get to hear about the process, and hopefully the discoveries, along the way.

So that’s what’s coming. A little more thinking, a little more writing.

And of course, there’s bound to be at least one post on…

November? Bring it on!


Friday Five: Favorite Writing Books

I’ve written about some of these books here, but it felt like time to just toss up a list. As of today, and in no particular order, these are my top 5 books on the craft of writing. If you’ve got some other favorites, add them to the comments, where everybody can see!

I have to mention one other book, which I haven’t actually read yet, but which I have on order–after listening to Merrily Kutner explain the diagramming method for picture books that the author teaches.  I’m pretty sure I’m going to seriously love  Eve Heidi Bine-Stock’s How to Write a Children’s Picture Book, Volume I: Structure. I’m pretty sure I’m going to like Volumes II and III, too, but I’m going one at a time for now!

Sometimes Progress is Little Steps

When I first started working on this WIP (which really needs a working title!), I read Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel (my review here) and spent a chunk of time with his workbook of the same name. In the course of doing some of the workbook exercises, I wrote a few actual scenes–trying to get closer to my hero’s needs, personality, and her narrative voice.

Honestly, I like those scenes. It’s easier, I think, to write a scene that isn’t yet connected to what has come before or what will come after. It’s easier to get in touch with the prose and the voice, because you’re worrying less–at that point–about how it all fits together. It’s a more free kind of word play, I think, which is always fun. 

Of course, as I get further into the book (I hit page 150 today–whee!), I’m coming up to some of those scenes, finding a place to fit them into the story as I’m learning it now. And, equally of course, I was right–so much of the stuff I wrote back them doesn’t mesh, doesn’t tie up with where Caro is, who she’s become. So what I end up doing is pasting the old scene into the new, keeping some or all of the setting and pieces of the action, then doing a quick “rewrite” of the dialogue and narration. Yes, quick, because it’s still the first draft, and, hoo-boy, is this baby going to change next time around.

But…Oh, come on, you knew there was going to be a but. Here’s what’s also happening. I’m further along with Caro. I still don’t know whether the things she’s doing and thinking should be showing up for the first time this late in the book (Oh, wait, I do know. They shouldn’t!), but at least she’s doing and thinking them. Yes, she’s probably acting with too much melodrama, thinking too much about this stuff instead of saying it out loud in conversation and argument, but I can take the melo away from the drama later, and I can move things into dialogue in another draft.

The thing is, she’s further along than she was before, than when I was just starting to know her through Maass’ workbook exercises, through those early disconnected scenes. Yes, sometimes it feels like I’m playing Mother May I, and the only steps I’m being allowed to take are the baby ones, but I’m inching forward.

It’s progress.

What makes you feel like you’re getting closer to the heart of your story, to the truth of your characters, even when the end goal seems far away? How do you know you’re on a track, any track, even if you’re not sure it’s the “right” one?

And the Winner Is…

Tonight, my son drew a name from the hat tupperware to see who would get a copy of Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel or Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.


And the name he pulled out is….LISA SCHROEDER!

Lisa, would you like Maass’ book or his workbook? Send me the answer and your snail mail address at

     beckylevine at ymail dot com

I’ll get the book out to you ASAP.

Congratulations! And, to everybody else, thanks for playing!